Like everyone else, I have been horrified by the attempted assassination in Arizona of Democratic congress woman Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six innocent bystanders.
As a Brit living in America, I find the wanton violence strange and somewhat alien. While Britain has its problems (it has a nasty culture of drunken violence), executing politicians in broad day light for no good reason isn't one of them.
America is a deeply, deeply divided nation with several societies living precariously next to each other. While extremism exists in other industrialized nations, there's nothing quite like extremism American style. There are the pro lifers, the pro choicers, the pro gun lobby and the anti gun lobby, the Fred Phelps family and celebrity liberals, the free marketers and the pro regulators, MSNBC and the Fox News Network, Rush Limbaugh and NPR - and the list goes on. You are either for or against something in America and the idea is to fight the other guy by shouting as loud as you can.
In good times, and uneasy truce can exist, but every now and then - particularly in bad economic conditions - the cultures collide and horrific events like the above transpire. America has a history of political assassinations. Four American Presidents have been killed by extremists, and there have been over 20 attempts to kill sitting or former Presidents. Political leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy all met untimely deaths due to extremism, and as we can see from events in Arizona, many more will likely occur.
It is hard to point the finger at any one particular problem in American society, but the divisiveness of its politics is certainly one of them. The Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins exacerbate division on a daily basis and feed a culture of hate and distrust that can manifests itself in untold ways. While they are not directly responsible for the deaths in Arizona, their constant needling of the disaffected political classes (ie. angry white people) surely has a part to play. Just take at the map Sarah Palin posted on her facebook page last year during the mid terms, targetting 20 democrats with cross hair gunsight symbols:
I'm not of course insinuating that Palin wanted to actually shoot the Democratic candidates, but by using cross hair gunsight symbols, it's clear who she was appealing to. Palin knows her audience, and she knows how to get the best out of them.
The aftermath of the murders and assassination attempt in Arizona will no doubt reignite the left/right debate about guns and violence, and the tone of it will be entirely predictable. Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin will leap in to support the right to bear arms, and the MSNBC pundits will decry the spiralling culture of extremism in America. And they will shout at each other for a couple of weeks untill the next big event requires their undivided attention. All the while, the root cause of economic instability and division gets worse, laying the foundations for another tragic event somewhere in the not too distant future.